August 1, 2012
Dayton: Probe politically motivated
Ex-public defender speaks out
Former Public Defender Keith Dayton spoke publicly for the first time Monday, calling the county’s investigation of him politically motivated to protect Cortland County Judge Julie Campbell.
“It can be linked to personal agendas,” Dayton said of the investigation, which has been turned over to the Cortland County District Attorney’s Office.
Dayton defends his nearly 12 years of service to the county, saying he was a salaried employee and performed all the job duties required of him.
“For 11 plus years all clients were represented, all the administrative duties were done and there was not a single complaint,” Dayton said.
Dayton said the investigation was prompted last July when he announced his intention to pursue with the state Office of Court Administration Judge Campbell’s release of Family Court transcripts to then-Legislature Chairman Jack Williams.
Dayton said following a Cortland Standard report that it was his intention to bring the matter before the OCA, the county launched the investigation.
Dayton said he was questioned by Binghamton attorney Mike Surowka in the fall of 2011, in an interview that lasted several hours and was attended by several legislators.
That investigation was regarded as a personnel matter and legislators never disclosed the subject of the interviews. But the county relaunched its investigation into Dayton anew this year with the same attorney, as the county’s investigative panel hired Surowka in February to investigate allegations of misconduct by Dayton.
Surowka completed the investigation last month, handing in his report last week, which the Legislature accepted Thursday. The report finds Dayton did not properly account for hours worked, did not keep track of leave accruals and worked his second job at SUNY Cortland during county business hours.
Dayton recalls in last year’s interview Surowka telling him not to continue to pursue Campbell’s actions.
During last year’s interview, Dayton recalls Surowka questioning him about his 2009 lawsuit against Williams over the release of the court transcripts. Dayton’s suit claimed Williams had no right to access these private documents and he questioned how Williams even knew they existed.
The suit was later dismissed on the grounds that Dayton lacked authority to sue on behalf of the Family Court clients. Dayton claims he had this authority but did not name the clients to protect them.
During the interview, Surowka warned him not to continue his pursuit of Campbell, Dayton said.
“That’s when he said stuff along the lines of, ‘OK now you know this is dismissed, you are not going to pursue this against Judge Campbell because if you do, be warned we consider that outside your job duties as public defender,’ ” Dayton said.
Surowka did not respond to a phone call for comment by press time this morning.
The interview this year questioned him about office duties and administrative functions. He said it was unclear what the charges were against him and claims he was denied due process entitled to him.
Dayton faults legislators for not attending his interview last month with Surowka. He says Legislature Chair Mike Park (R-Homer) did not let them attend.
“I’m the one they’re judging,” said Dayton, adding he expected legislators to want to judge his guilt or innocence for themselves.
Some legislators are disappointed with how the process played out.
At Thursday’s Legislative session, Legislator John Natoli (R-8th Ward) accused County Administrator Martin Murphy of not acting on the allegations last year when he knew of them, instead waiting until this year and simply not reappointing Dayton. Murphy claims the allegations that were investigated this year did not come forward until December.
Legislator Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) said the proper procedure was not followed.
“Do I think this should have been handled differently? You bet I do,” Briggs said. She thinks the matter should have been handled internally instead of spending up to $20,000 on an investigation.
Local attorney Pat Perfetti, who was subpoenaed by Surowka for the Dayton investigation because of his past employment in the Public Defender’s Office from 2000 to 2003, called the investigation a witchhunt.
Perfetti said the public defender and assistant public defenders are not 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. employees. He said the employees of the office frequently work late into the night for night court or on weekends for trial preparation. He also referenced the fact that past public defender Tom Jewett taught at Tompkins Cortland Community College while he held the job as did former assistant district attorney and Campbell’s husband Bruce Fine.
TC3 Public Information Officer Peter Voorhees confirmed Fine and Jewett were adjunct professors, Fine teaching two semesters in the fall of 2001 and 2002, Jewett teaching in the spring of 1975 until 2005.
Perfetti said he had several objections to participating in the investigation. He questioned Surowka’s authority to subpoena people who are not county employees and to investigate a matter regarding someone who is no longer a county employee. He also said he would have wanted his interview transcribed and was under the impression no interviews were recorded.
When he was subpoenaed, Perfetti had his lawyer contact Surowka to say he could not answer the questions Surowka had for him. Perfetti said he had no knowledge of whether Dayton taught at SUNY Cortland and that he had never taught a class for Dayton.
Perfetti never ended up testifying. He praised the Public Defender’s Office as he experienced it during his time there.
“We ran a very professional office. Our clients needs were met and I ... believe we generally enjoyed a very good reputation among the defense bar and were often cited by clients as providing very capable service,” Perfetti said.
The county’s bill for Surowka’s services as of June 13 stood at $11,284. More bills will be forthcoming. The bill last year for Surowka’s investigation into Dayton was $1,216. Surowka is also retained by the county regularly for other matters as its labor attorney.
Campbell’s office did not respond directly to the claim that the investigation into Dayton was prompted by his pursuit of Campbell’s release of Family Court transcripts.
Mary Beth Mathey, associate court attorney for Campbell, said the office would not comment on a case that might end up before the sitting judge.
“We know nothing at all about that investigation,” Mathey said. “Nobody here was ever interviewed or offered any input into that investigation.”
Park defends the investigation, saying it was done fairly and he denies that it was politically motivated. He said Dayton was questioned on the matter related to Campbell last year and that was the end of it.
The investigation this year into his use of comp time was separate from that and conducted fairly, he said.
Park said he will not tolerate inappropriate behavior by department heads.
“If there are any other things that are not right they need to be brought to my attention and we need to look into it,” Park said.
Former Legislature Chairman Williams said he had “no comment whatsoever” on the investigation.
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